Intercultural Dialogue Part III: Academic Rigor

Part III: Academic rigor

Academic rigor is another aspect where Lillian’s current experience abroad differs from mine. The difference likely stems from the fact that Lillian is a graduate student with a very difficult course load. She said that on her second trip to the U.S. “I was an exchange student so there was not too much pressure. But this time it was very different.”

For this reason, we focused our discussion on the general academic differences we each experienced as undergraduate exchange students. While Lillian and I agreed that the U.S. has one of the most rigorous higher education systems in the world, we both think that the American school system can be unnecessarily stressful. 

Taken from skul3asteveo's Flickr account.

Taken from skul3asteveo’s Flickr account.

Lillian found that American universities require a lot more daily homework assignments, in comparison with Taiwanese classes, where there are just one or two exams that determine your entire grade. She also found that American universities require much more active participation as well as frequent group work. “It’s really different from our culture; we just listen and take notes and take exams,” Lillian said, adding that it is disrespectful to question what a teacher is telling you in Taiwan.

In my Spanish university classes I was expected to attend lectures and complete occasional writing assignments, but that was all. The idea was to spend the semester absorbing information, before trying to recall as much of it as possible for one final exam or paper at the end of the semester. I really enjoyed this teaching style, because it meant I could relax for most of my time abroad and then just spend the last week studying.

I agree with Lillian that the American school system can be unnecessarily stressful, and often requires a lot of busywork that distracts students from gaining a deeper understanding of the material.

Differences brought us closer

While Lillian and I come from very different cultural backgrounds, I found that the differences in our experiences abroad actually unite us. By understanding the underlying frustrations, revelations, and moments of learning and excitement that accompany living in a new culture, we found things in common.

I agreed with Lillian when she said that “It’s actually a good learning experience to live in a different country,” because it makes you a much more open-minded and patient individual.

If there is one thing I have learned from this interview and the other dialogues I have had with “foreigners,” it is that our differences can actually be a source of strength that brings us closer. Lillian said the best part about living in a foreign country is “perceiving their [the country’s] good values and trying to bring what you think is good about your country.” By being open to different cultural values, we can shape a better way of living for ourselves.


(To learn more about adjusting to American university life check out Channel C’s episode Applying for U.S. Colleges Is Not Easy.)


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